10 September 2020
Being creative as a brand is always a must—and staying creative during a pandemic, well, that’s even more of a must. With so many businesses taking a hit and modifying marketing plans, we’re impressed at those who’ve decided to take a somewhat different approach … as we like to call it, “the smile effect.” For instance, take Kraft Heinz’s lemonade brand, Country Time. The imaginative group launched a new campaign called “The Littlest Bailout Relief Fund” that will send stimulus checks at random to kids who had to close their summer lemonade stands due to the pandemic. Parents simply enter their kid’s name on a microsite for their chance to win a $100 commemorative check and prepaid gift card. As the voiceover says, “Now the smallest of small businesses are about to get some help.” Cue the smiles. Country Time isn’t the only brand focused on the littles. Great Parks of Hamilton County felt the tears from miles away when news broke that playgrounds and picnic areas were off-limits earlier this year. That didn’t stop them, however, from bringing the park (and fun educational content) to the kids. But it’s not just young ones who are feeling blue this summer. Anyone with PTO on their hands is lamenting canceled cross-country vacation plans. While staycations are likely the most popular option for the foreseeable future, Audible UK tapped into consumers’ pent-up yearning to get out and explore after months of quarantine. Thanks to a new 30-second spot mimicking the oh-so-familiar welcome and safety message airlines broadcast before takeoff, as well as vintage-style images recalling the golden age of flying, “Fly Audible” repositions the audio book seller as a travel company (and reminds us that books truly can take us anywhere). Head to Hogwarts or Mars … no matter which destination you choose, it will be somewhere other than your living room. Perhaps the most heart-tugging campaign comes by way of Heineken. Their “Ode to Close” commercial puts a spotlight on the closeness we miss—and the closeness we feel by being apart. It’s the perfect happy hour inspiration. Rather than being stale and stagnant, brands are facing the facts: in order to stay in the black, they’ve got to get inventive in 2020. Scrap the plans and knock consumers’ socks off with something totally new (and smile-worthy) instead. Not only will it build brand loyalty and morale in the midst of the pandemic, but it can boost profits, too. Let the creatives, marketers, product peeps, heck … even management … flex their innovative muscle. If we’re all stuck in this together, why not have a little fun? Your business (and consumers) will thank you With a big #smile, of course. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
25 August 2020
Things have been heavy—both at home and at the (virtual) office the past few months. While we’ve been hunkering down and keeping our distance, we’ve also reassessed what we want out of life—and how we can improve our mindset and focus. After all, good can come from mess. According to Pinterest (most known for finding the latest instapot recipe or yarn wall hanging DIY), with COVID-19 creating new life stressors, more people than ever before are turning to the beloved inspirational platform for well-being and self-care. From February to May, searches have shifted from how to keep a succulent alive to mental wellness/meditation ideas (+44%), gratitude (+60%) and positivity (+42%). And the positivity doesn’t stop there. In challenging and uncertain times, sparks of creativity and a now-or-never attitude are ignited. No longer are we waiting for the “perfect time” to grow our family or build that house … instead, we’re taking life by the horns and making it happen now, damnit. Case in point: Pinterest says that searches for “starting a new business” are up 35% on average, as are searches for “future life goals” (2x), “life bucket list” (+65%), “family goals future” (+30%) and “future house goals” (+78%). And, searches related to gratitude are higher than ever—a huge leap of 60% from February to May. So how can brands and businesses take these keyword learnings and apply them to their own? According to our own resident digital marketing guru, Alex Webb, curating content that incorporates keywords and content trends will make all the difference. “People are trying to find something positive among the onslaught of negativity being constantly shoved in their faces,” she says. “Hence searches like ‘wellness/meditation/gratitude/positivity.’ Additionally, people are looking for ways to save and/or make money. The economy is uncertain, at best, right now. Even employed people may be thinking about tightening their belts. People are looking toward the future, when they presume things will be ‘better’ … which explains all the searches with the word ‘future’ in them.” Given these observations, Alex says advertisers should do three things: Avoid scare tactics. Focus on the feel-good messaging. In the past, scare tactic ads could create a sense of FOMO and drive users to take action now or create a sense of concern, again motivating users to do something now. However, people are worried enough these days. Focus on the good—the value—your company can provide. Provide and emphasize value. Can you offer free shipping, discounts, etc., right now? Do it! And let everyone know about it. Understand that the buying cycle might be longer. As people daydream about better days ahead, they may stumble across your ads or website … but they may be further away from committing than your pre-pandemic customers. Think about how you can nurture them in the long run. How can you stay top of mind until theyare ready to convert? Do you have an email list they can sign up for? Perhaps some longer-term retargeting ads are in order. Anything to allow you to stay in touch with them. “Knowing your audience’s mindset is imperative to building good relationships,” Alex says. And likewise, getting those insights is simple: Look at platform trends (like Pinterest). You can also check out Google Trends. Look at which pages on your website are getting the most traffic. Do you see a theme? If you’re running a Google Ads campaign, check your search queries reports. Here’s an example: At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, our pest control client saw a spike in search queries around DIY treatments. We hypothesized that this was because a) people didn’t want a stranger coming to their house during the pandemic or b) people wanted to save money, if possible. Maybe both. Our team wrote several blog posts about using essential oils to treat pests and DIY pest control. We provided real value by telling searchers the truth—some DIY methods can work as a stop-gap measure but they usually don’t clear up an infestation. Obviously, the client would rather you become a customer, but they didn’t balk at us talking about alternative methods. In April, their organic blog traffic (number of users) was up 50.7%. Specifically, one blog post about essential oils and pest control was up 68.1%, driving 3,596 users. (Keep in mind, this is a regional pest control company … not a national chain … not an exciting startup or social media platform.) Those significant gains continued and even increased further in May and June. In a recent survey by Channel Factor, 80% of consumers head to their favorite vloggers on YouTube to improve their mood—and it’s no wonder. Fun, lighthearted content with zero commercial interest is just what 2020 ordered. Lockdown life led to a huge uptake in media consumption—including a 44% worldwide increase in social media use according to Statista. With more people browsing through social media, knowing who your audience is more important than ever. And the better you know who your audience is, and, more important what they’re looking up on Pinterest or YouTube these days, the easier it will be to create more targeted, more relevant content for them to engage with … and that means more eyes on your business. Which is just the way it should be. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
09 July 2020
https://stgregory.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SGG_Zoom_Call_v12.mp4 Since the novel coronavirus became the story of the year, many of us have wondered how the new normal we eventually return to will be different from what we knew before. One of the lessons the great quarantine of 2020 taught us was how to use technology for remote learning or meetings, as well as for business and consumer transactions. It’s not like the technology was exactly new. There’s almost nobody in management or marketing who wouldn’t say they’d been through more than enough webinars or video presentations in their life. But when it became the normal way of communicating with your team at the office, your kid’s teachers and even the local car dealership, things got real. If you tried to upgrade your teleconference equipment in the first weeks of April, it was apparent that many of us had already begun to see video conferencing as a long-term trend—the major online players were all but completely sold out of custom-focus webcams and deep-resonance microphones. A cottage industry of downloadable custom backgrounds sprang up overnight and if you already owned a green screen … well, why, exactly? But you just about owned the weekly staff meeting. So is more common video conferencing going to be one lasting effect of COVID-19? Absolutely. People now are much more comfortable with the technology. For many, the added experience gives more confidence that we can actually drive the technology, rather than simply submit to it. That means many routine business meetings are likely to stay on video platforms, even after social distancing. But it also means that when an auto dealership or a jeweler or your financial planner invites you to a quick video demonstration, you’re more likely to be comfortable with the experience—and respond positively. The other side of that equation, of course, is that if you are operating as one of the competitors to that car dealer, jewelry store or financial adviser, you’d better be ready to do the same. Early movers will only have an advantage until other marketers catch up. This doesn’t mean that retail stores, car lots or conference rooms are going away anytime soon. As we’ve said before, personal interaction is a basic human need. But at least for the preliminaries … or the follow-up conversations … if a video chat isn’t as personal as a visit, it’s more intimate than phone call or an email. And the barriers to that technology are coming down. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
02 July 2020
Purpose: it’s a big deal. To individuals, to businesses, to brands, to life. If you look at life under a microscope lately, you’ll see some pretty intense things. The proverbial petri dish is full—overflowing, some might say. In between the COVID-19 global crisis, we’re grappling with longstanding issues of racism and inequality that have led to protests and social media blackouts. The volatility is increasing … and the microorganisms we’re watching are multiplying. With those facts in play, your brand’s purpose is an even bigger deal. No longer can it remain exactly the same—businesses must shift to be more inclusive of current events, and leadership at all levels has to answer some tough questions. Consumers aren’t satisfied with simply reading a mission statement on your website. They want to know the actions you’re taking to support social justice-oriented movements and why they should remain faithful to you. And, most important, they want it to be crystal clear. There’s no time for questions. Don’t dance a jig. Either you take a stand on important issues … or you’ll be left in the dust. The days of neutrality are over. However, if there’s one thing all business leaders can agree on, it’s that the recent pandemic has united us in one way that most of us have not seen before. Our livelihood purpose is common; therefore, our business purpose must rise to meet it. Even before COVID-19, this paradigm of purpose as a driving factor for profit has been in the spotlight. In 2019, more than 180 chief executives from the Business Roundtable shared a provocative statement that the purpose of a corporation should be to help other stakeholders such as employees, the environment and ethical suppliers. The board was so serious that it decided to create a special committee to advance racial equality and justice solutions this month. Still not convinced that a defined purpose is imperative to profitability? A recent global study reveals that when consumers think a brand has a strong purpose, they are: 4 times more likely to purchase from the company 6 times more likely to protect the company in the event of a misstep or public criticism 5 times more likely to champion the company and recommend it to friends and family 1 times more likely to trust the company But it isn’t just any consumer. If your brand isn’t going after millennials, you may want to abandon your marketing strategy altogether—76% of them want to see CEOs actively using their platform to address important social issues. If you aren’t delivering on this promise, you’re leaving money on the table (aka consumers won’t be donning masks in your stores or calling you for your service). Forty-three percent of consumers walk away from a brand when left disappointed by that brand’s words or actions on a social issue. Let that one sink in. So how do you shift or redefine your purpose in a time of uncertainty? Maybe you scratch it altogether and start anew. First things first: stay relevant as the world changes. Purchase patterns have drastically changed from basic-needs-only toward ethically-purchased-only. What is your company doing to be present and not stuck in the past? Second, take thoughtful action. Whether you speak out on social media about specific issues in the news or make philanthropic donations to in-need organizations, you’ve got to do something. After all, there’s nothing more powerful than purpose. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
19 June 2020
Consumers adapted to COVID-19 restrictions in many different ways—and marketers have had to shift gears with them. It’s more than demand moving to no-contact pickup and delivery options. Buying habits have changed quickly, with people purchasing more of some staples (see: Toilet Paper, Booze), and spending less on other things like hair products … and pants. Some of these changes will disappear as quickly as the social distancing markers on the floor at your grocery store. Others might stick around in different forms. As our Natalie Shawver pointed out a couple of weeks ago, there are more than a few we wouldn’t mind keeping. Our client Holman RV is seeing that play out right now. Families eager to maintain the tradition of summer travel are increasingly seeing travel campers and other recreational vehicles as a way to tour the country in a more controlled environment. Will the market stay this strong forever? Probably not. But a lot of families are having a new experience because of the crisis. They’re trying new things and, as marketers, we’re all on notice to pay attention to their evolving preferences. Because it’s a safe bet that many of them will keep some of those preferences, even when the signs and the masks are gone. http://stgregory.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Jun-20-COVID-RV-sales.mp4 This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
03 June 2020
Over the past three months, we’ve seen the world change drastically. We’re wearing masks in public, helping our children round out their school year virtually and becoming accustomed to the “new normal” of social distancing—in almost every capacity. Brands and businesses have exhibited sheer determination and utter brilliant displays of nimbleness—and frankly, we’re impressed. So impressed, in fact, that we’re hoping much of it sticks around. Whether it’s contactless Pizza Hut deliveries or curbside pickups from Kohl’s, social interaction has shifted. No longer do we have to physically engage with someone behind a register for our goods and services. Send a text, wait in your car and the item will be deposited into your trunk. Wave goodbye to the retail associate and be on your way. Easy peasy. Businesses have proven, again and again, that they can put the customer first throughout the recent COVID-19 crisis. Amping up email marketing with “don’t worry, we’ll come to you!” messages and social media updates (new hours, specials or dedicated shopping times for at-risk individuals) are what we’ve come to expect. Quick virtual chats with our doctors means less time twiddling our thumbs in waiting rooms. Online grocery orders with a specific pickup time have become the highlight of our weekly to-do list. Librarians bringing books to our vehicles instead of making us search the hold shelf ourselves … glorious. So the question becomes, what remains? Does the general public expect this no-touch-minimal-interaction to be a thing forever? Perhaps. There’s no denying much of the recent purchase process modifications has given us our time back—but it’s also shifted our focus back to the basics. Consumers have a need; companies rise to meet it. The days of someone filling up our gas tank are long gone … or are they? What about milkmen delivering straight to your door? Hmmm … seems eerily familiar. Has the pandemic simply made us return to the level of service we (or our grandparents) once were accustomed to? The time when the customer’s needs came first—and that made for happier, more loyal, more satisfied customers … which therefore meant more business? Maybe. The touchpoints may be slightly different, but the journey remains the same. Hermits, germaphobes, clock-watchers and the like aren’t complaining about this added layer of instant gratification we seem to be living in. Amazon may have been ahead of its time with Prime, but the rest of the world bent over backward to stay in business and think outside the box. Kudos to operations teams everywhere. Our economy has stayed afloat thanks to your inventive and ingenious ways. And bravo to all those making it come to life. We’re saluting you with our mobile Starbucks order while we run weekend errands without ever stepping foot inside a store. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
07 May 2020
Author: Steve Bleh
In every category, there’s a baseline level of competence that customers expect. But long-term brand success depends on the consumer preferring not just your product, but the experience of doing business with you. If the food is perfect, but the atmosphere is unattractive, diners won’t come back. If your service is efficient but your technicians are sloppy, nobody wants them back in their home. If your product is a great value but the cashier is rude, shoppers will take their business somewhere else. Exceeding those expectations is what fosters long-term customer loyalty. And that’s harder than ever in a socially distanced world. It’s not like front-line employees aren’t already going above and beyond the call. But even a slight added value in the customer experience can make a difference. You may have noticed this in action already. Some restaurants not traditionally in the carryout business have been forced to earn their chops in a hurry and it’s clear who gets it. It’s impossible to replicate a fine dining experience in a drive-thru window, no matter how well prepared and packaged the food is. But by making the experience of picking up the order more pleasant, or adding a small surprise to the unpacking at home, brands are giving their customers another reason to come back. And, ideally, even a positive story to share. In-home service providers naturally are taking extra precautions to protect their providers and the families they serve. Some of these changes are obvious, but not all. By making the extra time and effort apparent—sharing a checklist or sending a pre-call email, for example—brands can gain the lasting trust of homeowners that builds repeat business and referrals. One of the greatest business casualties of COVID-19 social distancing may be the one asset that’s hardest to replace. Even for businesses who continue to operate during stay-at-home orders, the customer experience has been changed dramatically. This is a tremendous opportunity for brands to invest in experience, while brands that miss the opportunity could be nudged toward commoditization. Or worse. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
29 April 2020
Author: Steve Bleh
If you’re from the do-more-with-less school of marketing, what a time to be alive for you. But for brands who need to stay engaged with their audiences despite social distancing and restrictions on the size of gatherings, the last few weeks have been a time to get creative. Absent the ability to pull together photo or video shoots, many marketers have been forced to rely on existing assets or (horrors!) stock images and video. But some organizations have turned to their people and members of their own audiences for new content that’s both fresh and relevant. And when the content and execution matches brand identity, the shared experiences can be not just impressive, but inspiring. An example of that is the Parks @ Home campaign from our friends (and clients) at Great Parks of Hamilton County. The parks remain open, but with picnic areas, playground equipment and especially restrooms off-limits, it can be challenging for families with young children to enjoy a visit, even on a beautiful spring day. With the help of the Great Parks pros, they’ve created online experiences, educational content, learning activities and enriching games to engage kids and their parents. http://stgregory.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20_0442_GREATPARKS_FAMILIES_15_HD.mp4 Most notably, it presents an opportunity for members of their audience to connect with each other through the program, with shared activities and exercises that foster conversation and build lasting engagement. Great Parks has some distinct advantages and they’ve created a way to leverage those assets to keep their audiences engaged during social distancing. Brands who do likewise will see it pay off once we get back to something closer to normal. What’s your brand’s advantage?
20 April 2020
Operating during Coronavirus is as new for your customers as it is for all of us. Every opportunity counts, while your consumers are changing their behavior simultaneously online and in real life. As these shifts continue, our reaction time as marketers is even shorter. This presents opportunities for your brand—as well as your competitor’s—to capture their attention through your digital content. And your customers want to hear from you. In fact, Kantar found that only eight percent of consumers think companies should stop advertising during the outbreak. Be present This is not the time to go dark—either in your social media channels or your website content. Consumer behavior has changed considerably on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Traffic is up, but visits are more kinetic. It’s as if our collective attention spans have gotten even shorter as we process a flood of new information. Maintaining a brand presence between customer touchpoints is always important and relevant and useful information will keep your brand in the consciousness of both consumers and search engines. Be helpful That relevant information should include ways your organization can help in these unusual times. Have you changed operating hours or procedures to serve your customers and protect them and your staff? Tell us about it. Are you pausing operations but scheduling service for the future? Let us know how your biggest fans can get to the head of the line. Do you have a product or service that is particularly useful during quarantine? By all means, tell us more! Be clear Sharing details about doing business with your brand is really only helpful if it’s relevant to the customer. You’re changing your hours to sanitize your vehicles? Lay out how that affects the customer. Having inventory issues? Communicate exactly what is in-stock, what’s not and when you expect that to change. Phone lines jammed? Share that immediately through every other channel at your disposal. People understand these are unusual times for you, too, and they’re willing to be patient when they have a clear understanding. Be consistent Don’t fall into the trap of communicating with your customers once and calling it a day. Update at least as frequently as you did during normal times. Remember, a good part of your content will be pushed down people’s news feeds by the latest news, along with graduation pictures from 1997. Stay active to stay relevant. Be a connector A major theme in much of the consumer-generated content right now is staying connected. People are feeling isolated and are eager for human contact. If possible, demonstrate how your brand brings people together by acknowledging your online community and inviting them to join with your company—and each other—in some community effort. Salute local amateur athletes who lost their spring sports season. Repost the community theater’s rehearsal video. Recognize local students or civic organizations for community service. Be grateful Remember to thank your customers—and your casual followers—for remaining with your brand through this situation. Thank them for their efforts and their sacrifice to stay healthy and help to shorten the duration. Most important, thank your employees—the line staff, technicians, phone center representatives, all of them—who one way or another are facing new challenges right now. Also remember your vendors. A little appreciation, even when you’re the one writing the checks—can go a long way to keeping your supply chain running smoothly now and when we get back to something approaching normal. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.